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Hollywood mourned passings in 2004

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Dec. 30, 2004 at 6:47 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- The roster of entertainment-industry notables who died in 2004 included acting icon Marlon Brando, musical genius Ray Charles, "Superman" Christopher Reeve, comedy legend Rodney Dangerfield and Hollywood actor-turned U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

Brando, who died in July at 80, was widely regarded as one of the greatest actors of his generation. The two-time Oscar-winning actor ("On the Waterfront," "The Godfather") was credited with influencing the style of other actors including James Dean, Paul Newman, Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro.

Charles, who died in June at 73, pioneered the blending of gospel music with R&B. The 12-time Grammy winner died just months after completing work on "Genius Loves Company," which went on to become his first million-selling record and has earned 10 Grammy nominations, seven of them for Charles' performances.

Reagan died in June at 93, following a long struggle with Alzheimer's disease. An icon of modern conservative politics, Reagan used his background as an actor and pitchman to become -- among his better-known nicknames -- "The Great Communicator."

Reeve was 52 when he died of heart failure in October, a complication related to the paralyzing spinal-cord injury he suffered in a horseback riding accident in 1995. He had become an advocate for the disabled and for expanded research into the potential usefulness of stem cells in treating diseases and injuries.

Dangerfield, best known for his rapid-fire jokes and the signature line "I don't get no respect," also died in October. He was 82. Dangerfield died following what a publicist called a difficult recovery from heart-valve replacement surgery in August.

The entertainment world also lost Janet Leigh in October. She was 77. Leigh made scores of movies during her half-century in Hollywood, including "Touch of Evil" and "The Manchurian Candidate," but she will forever be remembered for one movie -- "Psycho" -- and for one scene in particular, the famous shower scene in which her character is brutally killed.

Tony Randall, who died in May at 84, was widely regarded as a gifted comedy specialist, but within his profession he was known as a consummate, versatile man of the theater. Randall -- known for his outspokenness on subjects ranging from smoking to the superiority of classical music over rock 'n' roll -- was unwilling to let producers and critics pigeonhole him as a "comic" actor.

Bob Keeshan, who entertained generations of children as TV's gentle, thoughtful "Captain Kangaroo," died in 2004 at 76. His show ran for 30 years on CBS before moving to PBS in 1985, where it ran for six more years. Along the way, "Captain Kangaroo" was honored with six Emmys and three Peabody Awards.

As 2004 came to a close, word came that Jerry Orbach -- the Emmy-nominated star of TV's "Law & Order" and a Tony-winning actor on the New York stage -- had died of prostate cancer at 69. Broadway dimmed its lights to honor Orbach, who won the Tony in 1969 for his performance in the musical "Promises, Promises."

Two longtime favorites of public TV viewers died in 2004: Alistair Cooke and Julia Child.

Cooke, the veteran BBC broadcaster who straddled two continents and cultures, died at 95 in March. He was best known as the host of PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre," for which he won an Emmy in 1975.

Child, who gained international fame with her public TV show, "The French Chef," died in August at 91. Child's TV series debuted in February 1963, and she went on to star in eight more TV series and write nine more cookbooks.

In January TV talk show pioneer Jack Paar died at 85, following a long illness. Paar brought sophisticated humor to late-night TV as the host of "The Tonight Show" in the 1950s, welcoming such guests as John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater and Dr. Albert Schweitzer -- and occasionally tested the limits of what could be discussed on public airwaves.

Comedian Alan King died of lung cancer in May at 76.

The world of musical comedy lost such standouts as Howard Keel ("Kiss Me Kate," "Show Boat," "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"), composer Cy Coleman ("Sweet Charity," "City of Angels"), lyricist Fred Ebb ("Chicago," "Cabaret") and singer-dancer Ann Miller ("On the Town," "Kiss Me Kate").

Metropolitan Opera star Robert Merrill, a fan favorite at Yankee Stadium for his frequent performances of the national anthem, died at 87 in 2004.

Frank Thomas, one of Walt Disney's famous "Nine Old Men" team of animators, died at 92. Thomas created some of the most memorable sequences in animation history -- including the dwarfs weeping when they thought Snow White was dead in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and the scene from "Lady and the Tramp" in which the title characters find love over a plate of spaghetti and meatballs.

Fay Wray, best known as the blonde beauty in the 1933 classic "King Kong," died at 96. Other notable actors who died in 2004 included John Drew Barrymore, Isabel Sanford, Peter Ustinov, Mercedes McCambridge, Paul Winfield, John Randolph and Uta Hagen.

Singer Rick James, best known for the 1981 funk classic "Super Freak," was found dead at 56 in August at his home in Los Angeles. James became a superstar in 1981 with the release of his triple-platinum album "Street Songs," which included "Super Freak," but gained infamy when he was sentenced to five years in state prison in California in 1994 for assault and drug convictions. He was released after two years.

Record producer Terry Melcher, who was also the son of screen legend Doris Day, died of melanoma at 62. Country singer Skeeter Davis, a Grand Ole Opry star for more than 40 years who had a pop hit with "The End of the World" in 1962, died at 72 following a battle with breast cancer.

Movie composers David Raksin ("Laura") and Jerry Goldsmith ("Chinatown," "Patton" "Planet of the Apes") also died in 2004. So did Billy May, the Grammy-winning arranger known for his collaborations with Frank Sinatra.

Comedian Vaughn Meader, who became a star with his impression of President John F. Kennedy, then lost his career when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, died at 68, following a long battle with emphysema and other illnesses.

Jazz lost drummer Elvin Jones and guitarist Barney Kessel.

Jones was a member of John Coltrane's legendary quartet in the 1960s and went on to lead his own band. Kessel pioneered bebop guitar and was a leading proponent of West Coast jazz in the 1950s and '60s.

Punk rocker Johnny Ramone died of prostate cancer in 2004. He was 55. Soft porn filmmaker Russ Meyer ("Vixen," "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls") died at 82.

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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